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Motor Racing

Webber defies turmoil to top charts

Damage limitation. On and off the track, that's been the catchphrase of a cold weekend that might just prove to be the tipping point in Formula One's history. In the end, the renegade FOTA teams elected not to prod the tiger more than necessary and dropped their thoughts of presenting beleaguered FIA president Max Mosley with a convenient ready-to-sign letter of resignation.

They learned after the World Motor Sport Council meeting in Paris on 24 June, where Mosley agreed to stand down as chief in October, that too much triumphalism is enough to goad him into a change of heart, never mind challenging him so directly.

But patience is fast running out, and the pressure has never been greater on Mosley to clear off.

His long-time cohort Bernie Ecclestone was also in trouble, still haunted by his intemperate remarks last week about Adolf Hitler and the manner in which many chose to interpret them. Leading Jewish businessmen condemned them. Most prominent among them was Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP who also happens to be a board member and shareholder of Delta-Topco (part-owned by CVC Capital Partners and Ecclestone as F1's commercial rights holders), who told him not to go to Germany. Ecclestone did, of course, since one does not instruct him to do anything.

But the fact that he allowed himself to be photographed shaking hands with former rally champion Ari Vatanen, who has confirmed that he will fight Mosley for the presidency in October, was a telling indication of the direction of the wind of change that rendered the paddock such a bleak place this weekend. CVC is reportedly working "24/7" to get rid of Mosley and it is said to be Sorrell, together with Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of Nestle and a fellow Delta-Topco board member and shareholder, who is working hardest to oust him.

With FOTA putting increasing pressure on CVC to make a decision whether to join their still-possible breakaway series or else to help find a lasting solution to the problems Mosley has recently generated by threatening not to withdraw after all, tensions have been running high.

Improbable as it might seem even the ghost of Peter Mandelson flitted through, ostensibly because Ecclestone is under pressure from Sorrell to temper his comments and use a PR company with which Mandelson has connections.

On the track the cold conditions, allied to a rain shower just before the second qualifying session, threw things into great confusion. Red Bull started as favourites, with Brawn potentially on their back foot fighting the same tyre warm-up problems that had beset them at Silverstone.

Nobody, but nobody, could find grip on Bridgestone's prime tyre, with its medium compound. And while the Red Bulls were expected to go well on the super-soft option, points leader Jenson Button hoped for better things here as his Brawn prefers that tyre to the soft compound used at Silverstone.

The weather, however, nearly changed everything as cars went spinning on the greasy track the moment Q2 began. At the end of it Rubens Barrichello was fastest for Brawn, with Button jumping to fifth from 15th in the dying seconds. Mark Webber, fast all weekend, was fourth for Red Bull, his British GP-winning team-mate Sebastian Vettel only seventh.

It was dry for the final session, but the upset in Q2 had thrown people off balance. With minutes left an all-British front row loomed as Lewis Hamilton in a resurgent McLaren went quickest, before Button displaced him. But then Webber's lap of 1min 32.230sec pushed him ahead and withstood Vettel's 1:32.480 challenge. That momentarily placed the German second before Button's 1:32.423 earned him the position, but almost immediately Barrichello grabbed it with 1:32.357.

Hamilton's 1:32.616 was good enough for fifth, as his team-mate Heikki Kovalainen enjoyed McLaren's renaissance with sixth on 1:33.859. "It's very special for me, having been close to pole a few times," Webber said. "Qualifying was very chaotic but we were able to deliver when it counted. Qualifying is always tense and it always comes down to that last lap. It's about containing your emotions and relying on your experience. It's incredibly easy to look stupid in these conditions. We were tested to the limit, knowing how greasy the track was and choosing the right tyres."

Barrichello, facing his 280th grand prix, was very happy with second, and revealed: "I felt like I wasn't breathing for all of that last session."

And Button was satisfied with his damage limitation work for third. "Q2 was madness," he laughed. "We are struggling with tyre warm-up here anyway, so chuck some water in there too and it was quite difficult. Twelve degrees in mid-July... Who says English weather is bad? Q2 was a session I really did not want, so getting through to Q3 was good and whoever is in the top three should be happy. Congratulations to Mark on his first pole.

"This weekend has been all about getting heat into the tyres and we made the best of it today. But it's going to be a tough race for us."